Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus.
HPV is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can be spread even if there are no visible signs or symptoms. HPV can also be transmitted through non-penetrative sexual activities that involve skin-to-skin contact with infected areas.
Types of HPV
There are over 100 types of HPV and they can be classified into high-risk and low-risk types based on their association with the development of certain cancers:
- Low-risk HPV types: These types of HPV, such as HPV 6 and 11, are associated with genital warts and low-grade cervical cell changes. They are less likely to cause cancer.
- High-risk HPV types: Certain high-risk HPV types, such as HPV 16 and 18, are strongly associated with the development of various cancers, including cervical, anal, vulvar, vaginal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers.
Many people with HPV do not experience any symptoms and are unaware that they are infected. HPV infections often resolve on their own without causing any health problems. However, some individuals may develop visible genital warts, abnormal Pap smear results, or other HPV-related complications.
Vaccination and safe sexual practices can help prevent HPV infections and reduce the risk of associated health problems.
- HPV vaccination: Vaccines like Gardasil are available to protect against certain high-risk HPV types and HPV types associated with genital warts. Vaccination is recommended for both males and females before sexual activity begins, typically between the ages of 11 and 12. Catch-up vaccination is also available for all individuals.
- Safe sexual practices: Consistent and correct use of condoms can reduce the risk of HPV transmission but does not eliminate it completely since HPV can infect areas not covered by condoms.
Screening and treatment
Regular screenings, such as Pap smears or HPV tests, are important for detecting HPV-related abnormalities or cervical cancer at an early stage. Treatment for HPV-related conditions depends on the specific issue. For example, genital warts can be treated with medications or procedures to remove the warts, while abnormal cervical cell changes may require further evaluation and treatment.
It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice, particularly regarding HPV vaccination, screenings and management of HPV-related conditions.